Millsap returns but Hawks fall to the Nets (updated)

Goodbye, old friend.

The Nets under first-year head coach Kenny Atkinson are playing spoiler to the Hawks playoff chances and position. The former Hawks assistant coach has two wins over his previous employer in the past week.

Two dreadful losses for the Hawks.

The Nets defeated the Hawks 91-82 Sunday at Barclays Center even with the return of Paul Millsap. The Hawks had a chance to move back into fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Instead they suffered their second straight loss and have dropped nine of the past 11 games. The Bucks remained a game ahead of the Hawks despite losing to the Mavericks earlier in the day. The Hawks are also being chased by the Bulls, Heat and Pacers for the final playoff spots with five games remaining in the regular season. The Hawks are a game ahead of the Bulls and two games ahead of the Heat and Pacers for the final spots.

“He would like to play spoiler,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Atkinson before the game. “He is that competitive.”

The Hawks trailed by 10 points, 82-72, with 4:55 remaining. They got as close at three points, 83-80, with 3:27 left. Spencer Dinwiddie hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to give the Nets a six-point advantage. The Hawks got no closer than four points the rest of the way.

Millsap returned after missing eight straight games with left knee synovitis. The Hawks’ leading scorer did not start and came off the bench. He first entered with 5:08 remaining in the first quarter. Millsap was on a minute restriction. He finished with 14 points on 4 of 14 shooting in 26 minutes. There were signs of rust as Millsap missed several in-close attempts.

“Overall I felt pretty good,” Millsap said. “I missed a lot of bunnies. It’s to be expected missing that many games. Rhythm is a little off. I felt good. I like the way we are headed. Just can’t wait for the next game.”

The Hawks (39-38) were led by Dennis Schroder with 16 points. Taurean Prince finished with 13 points and Dwight Howard had a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds

The Nets (18-59) have the worst record in the NBA but own two wins over the Hawks in seven days. Brook Lopez led the Nets with a game-high 29 points. Jeremy Lin added 15 points.

The Nets led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter and took a 70-61 lead into the final period. They pushed their advantage to 15 points in the fourth before the Hawks’ comeback fell short.

The Nets took a 46-43 lead into intermission after ending the second quarter on a 7-0 run. The second period was not kind to either team. With 5:27 remaining in the period, the Nets were 1 of 12 with four turnovers for four points and the Hawks were 2 of 8 with six turnovers for nine points.

The Nets jumped out early with the help of Lin and Lopez. Lin scored the Nets’ first eight points and Lopez scored 18 of the next 21 points, including 15 straight, to end the opening period. The two combined for 26 of the Nets’ 29 points.

Hawks players spent time in the post-game locker room tracking the scores of other games from the conference contenders, particularly the Cavaliers double overtime win over the Pacers.

The Hawks know they have a fight on their hands to make the postseason.

“It’s five games, we’ve got to fight for the playoffs,” Schroder said. “We are going to take care of that. Going into the playoffs, we have to be sharper.”

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